6 Steps a Mom of 3 Used to Pay Off Her Mortgage 17 Years Early

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  • Liz Gendreau was motivated to pay off her family’s mortgage early after two disasters struck.
  • Her husband lost his job in the Great Recession and nearly died of septic shock after undergoing surgery.
  • She refinanced and used a high-yield savings account to pay off the mortgage in one lump sum.

Paying off a mortgage early and becoming completely debt-free is a goal for many — it can be an emotional and mental drain that frees up energy to focus on other aspects of life without having to worry about it, like the mortgage will be paid.

That was certainly the case for Liz Gendreau and her husband, Todd Gwiazdowski. The couple paid off their mortgage 17 years ahead of schedule, motivated after experiencing back-to-back disasters. As an added bonus, they saved over $100,000 in interest costs in the process.

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Here are the six things Gendreau, mother of three, chief information officer and blogger at Chief Mom Officer, and her husband did to help their family’s dream of early mortgage repayments come true.

They understood their “why”.

In 2009, Gwiazdowski lost his job due to the Great Recession. Then, after an operation, he went into septic shock and almost died. Gendreau was 31 and had two young children.

After Gwiazdowski’s near-death experience, Gendreau knew that when times were tough, they didn’t want to worry about money.

“We learned the hard way that when bad things happen, money is the last thing you want to worry about,” she says.

Gendreau was determined to make sure they didn’t have debts overhead should anything ever happen again, and craved the financial security that came with not paying down a mortgage.

They refinanced when it made sense

Gendreau and Gwiazdowski bought their home in 2006 for $345,000 and put it down 20%. In 2013, they refinanced a 15-year mortgage at a lower interest rate of 2.75%. This shortened their mortgage to 15 years, but they knew they could pay it off even faster.

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They made it a priority

For most of the mortgage repayment, Gendreau was the only income earner, or her husband only worked part-time, so the bulk of the mortgage payments came from one income.

For her, the greatest lesson was perseverance. “The biggest lesson was that while the goal may seem impossible at first, if you keep going, you will get there,” she says. “Not having a mortgage isn’t as good as people say it’s better.”

They strategically used a high-interest savings account

Gendreau and her husband began putting every windfall, large or small, into a high-yielding savings account. Extra paychecks, bonuses, and tax refunds helped them meet their early payout goal.

Gendreau and Gwiazdowski saved a sum and paid off the outstanding mortgage in one go. They chose to keep their money in a high-yield savings account because it would earn more interest than a regular savings or checking account, but would still be safe and wouldn’t go up and down with the market.

Gendreau says she chose to save the money in a high-yield savings account rather than make additional mortgage payments over time because she didn’t want the money locked up in the house where she couldn’t get it out if she did lost her job or her husband got sick again.

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They made a final payment of $183,000 from their savings to be mortgage free in 2019.

They celebrated and counted their blessings

After becoming mortgage free, the family took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to celebrate.

“We paid off the house in March 2019 and I took the family on a dream trip to Japan this summer to celebrate,” says Gendreau.

Then, when COVID struck, they breathed a sigh of relief that they didn’t have to worry about a house payment.

Gendreau says, “Living without a mortgage during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blessing.” Gendreau knew no matter what, her family would have a home with no debt, which made getting through this difficult time so much easier to survive.

They also took care of other financial priorities

Gendreau’s final advice? “Make sure you have your financial basics covered first, and don’t ignore your retirement or other financial goals in the interest of being mortgage-free. You have to find a balance that works for you.”

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